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Young Physician

ca. 1830
Origin: America, New York (probably) Dutchess County
Unframed: 31 x 25in. (78.7 x 63.5cm) and Framed: 37 x 31 x 1 5/8in.
Oil on canvas
Museum Purchase
Acc. No. 1958.100.42
A half-length portrait of a young man seated sideways in a side chair, his proper left arm resting along its crest rail. He wears a black coat and waistcoat and a white shirt and stock and holds a brown, leather-bound book in his proper right hand. He has dark brown hair and blue eyes. The chair is black with gold stenciled decorations on it. The background is a warm brown.
The 3 1/2-inch flat frame is original; it is painted black, with gold-painted scoop-molded inner lip and gold-painted half-round outer edge.
Label:Unfortunately, the identity of this sitter may never be learned without more clues than the "Cooper's Surgery" he holds. Phillips was responsible for numerous portraits of men in virtually identical poses at this period, and many of them, like the "Young Physician," are now unknown by name. However, most of the sitters who can be identified lived in Dutchess County, New York, thus reinforcing the likelihood that this man did also.
By the point in his career when he painted the "Young Physician," Phillips had evolved a striking, highly stylized formula for turning out portraits, which he doubtless did very quickly if his crisp, sure lines and fluid brushstrokes are any indication. Typically for his work at this time, many parts of the painting have been abbreviated to suggestions: the black jacket is defined by minimal modeling, the hand holding the book is equally flat, and the swipe of a brushstroke over the sitter's raised wrist merely hints at the shadow of his sleeve. It might be argued that because Phillips combined artistic shortcuts with stock poses during this period, his sitters lack individuality, but nothing could be further from the truth. A comparison of "look-alike" paintings reveals that Philips applied his paint discriminatingly where it counted in a portrait --- in the face. That he could observe and record individual characteristics --- a heavy-lidded eye, hooked nose, or long face --- is merely emphasized by the readily apparent similarities of composition and brushwork.
Phillips ofen failed to utilize the most basic concepts of anatomy; here, for instance, the physician's head is too large for his body. However, such disproportions neither contradict nor negate the artist's minute observance of distinguishing details, which probably encouraged sitters to accept his portraits as "good likenesses." Additional individualizing touches in this type of portrait are provided by endlessly varied stenciling patterns on chair rails and stiles and by specific book or newspaper titles, the latter occasionally bearing dates as well.
Provenance:J. Stuart Halladay and Herrel George Thomas, Sheffield, Mass. Halladay died in 1951, leaving his interest in their jointly-owned collection to his partner, Thomas. Thomas died in 1957, leaving his estate to his sister, Mrs. Albert N. Petterson, who was AARFAC's vendor.
Inscription(s):Painted on the spine of the book in the sitter's hand is: "COOPER'S/SURGERY-/VOL./I." See Note 1.